Thursday, June 24, 2021

No Plexiglass, No Masks, Better Poker

Long time, no blog! So this will be the first of two-parts, just like in the good ol’ days.

In my previous post, here, I reported on two sessions at the Bike.  I visited there again in late May and had a totally miserable time.  I decided I would not return to the Bike until California completely opened up, which was scheduled for June15.  Lockdown poker was not for me.

In May, there was still plexiglass at all the tables, everyone was required to wear a mask and you could not have a drink (any kind of drink, even water) at the table.  I described my issues with that in that post linked above.  What I didn’t describe is how much I hate the drive to and from the Bike (one of the main reasons I started playing in Ventura).  That particular day I used Google Maps to help me navigate the journey to and from them, but despite the help, it was still a horrific drive.  I can’t get to the Bike without driving thru the heart of downtown Los Angeles, and even on a Saturday afternoon, it is miserable.  Forget about trying it during any kind of rush hour.  And to make it even worse, Google Maps had me exit the freeway and take surface streets for part of the drive and took me straight into a traffic circle.  Is there a setting for Google Maps where I can tell it to avoid traffic circles? You can refresh your memory as to how much I hate traffic circles here.

The game that day was awful.  Not only was I totally card dead but the table was dead too.  As noted, between the plexiglass and the masks, there was absolute no chatter at the table.  I was sitting in virtually total silence the entire afternoon—and also I desperately needed a drink of water.  I mean, the NBA playoffs had just started and the games were on in the room.  You would think that would stimulate some conversation among the players, but no, no one said a word. Funerals are more fun than this. Sure I like to win, but what first got me into poker was that it was a social game and there was a lot of friendly banter (which in a perfect world, would lead to great blogging material.)

After a terrible drive home (where Google Maps gave me some misinformation about what lane to be in), I vowed I would not return to the Bike until the lockdown was over—if then. It just wasn’t worth it going thru that hellish traffic to only be more miserable at the table.

Of course, in general, the poker games were more fun in Ventura than the Bike (and more fun in Vegas than at either).  But thinking back, I did have some great, fun posts from Bike sessions, so it is at least possible. I mean, if there were no masks and no plexiglass and I wasn’t suffering from a painfully dry mouth, that is.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t go to Ventura, well, sadly, it has not reopened and is unlikely to do so any time soon, if ever.  The lockdown was devastating to them (and tons of other small businesses, for sure) and they filed for bankruptcy (see here). Perhaps they will find a new location and re-open sometime in the future, but I am not holding my breath.  So for now, it’s The Bike. 

But the state did indeed open up on June 15.  Well, mostly.  There are still some restrictions (for example, you can’t ride Uber without a mask, or visit a medical facility without one).  The state rule is that no one who has been fully vaccinated is required by the state to wear a mask, inside or out. Businesses can request proof of vaccination but are allowed to go with the honor system.  No place I’ve entered since 6/15 asked me if I had been vaccinated (and I entered every place I did without a mask, it was glorious!)  Of course any business or government facility can have stricter rules if it desires.  But for all intensive purposes, we are open and free! (Note: I am a professional writer, and I know that the proper expression is, “for all intents and purposes.”  But my purposes are actually fairly intensive.)

On the 15th, most of the southern California rooms tweeted out that masks were no longer necessary for those who had been vaccinated.  Some tweeted out pics of the plexiglass being removed.  Only a few rooms voluntarily talked about drinking at the table, but it seemed logical that it would be ok and some answered my question about it when I asked (the rooms that answered confirmed drinking was allowed at the table.) The Bike was one of the rooms that didn’t answer my inquiry (don’t they know who I am?) but I assumed it would be ok. Just the same, for my first visit, I smuggled in a couple of small water bottles. We were having an early season heat wave and there I was carrying a heavy jacket so I could hide the bottles in the pockets.

So this past Saturday, I made the trek down to the Bike.  I still had to “check in.” They won’t let you enter the casino without a player’s card (even though once inside it is totally useless as they are not tracking hours for comps, no Southern CA room is.) They are still keeping track of who is there for contact tracing purposes in case an outbreak breaks out. I don’t believe they took my temperature but they did give me a paper orange wristband to show that I had been screened.  

As soon as I entered the place, I saw what I wanted to see. Well, no, I didn’t see a scantily clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.  But I did see little carts next to the poker tables with beverages on them. Yes! Also, blissfully, in the main poker room, I didn’t see one hint of plexiglass anywhere.  Sweet!  And masks? Well, every single employee wore a mask, but well over 75% of the players seemed to be unmasked.  That was great for a couple of reasons.  One, I might actually be able to hear what someone was saying.  It would make it easier for fun conversations to be had.  Also, well, I want to see as much of a person’s face as possible when they make a bet. I want to see if they have a poker face. The mask makes it too easy to cover that up. The very first place they should ban masks, after banks I suppose, is poker rooms.

It would be nice if the dealers were maskless, because they’re the ones who you have to hear in order to know what is going on with the game.  It’s a visual game but you sometimes need to hear the dealer answer a question of how much the bet is or who’s turn it is to act. But there is a different government bureaucracy in CA that controls health and safety standards for workplaces, and they dilly-dallied making a decision on whether or not employees could go maskless in workplaces.  They only decided the day before I went to the Bike that they didn’t have to wear masks either.  So businesses weren’t prepared and were still requiring masks for the time being.  Hopefully that will be gone by the next time I hit the Bike, but it could be that the Bike wants their employees to keep wearing masks.  We’ll see.

I had used the excellent Table Captain software from my employer, PokerAtlas, to register for the game I wanted while I was driving down there.  I checked in on the phone, saw there were a few names ahead of me on the list, and tried to figure out how the people with drinks had gotten them.  But I saw nobody serving or offering to serve drinks.  When I got to a table, I asked how to get a drink.  I was told that they were coming around every hour or so with a cart that had soft drinks on it.  But if I didn’t want to wait (I didn’t) I could go to the Bike Brewery (just off the casino floor) and get a drink from the take-out line.  Which I did.

It seemed like it took forever for me to get that $2 Diet Pepsi, but I made it back to my game without missing a blind.  And I was happy to have that drink, let me tell you.  I later realized that they had not yet hired back any servers or cocktail waitresses, that’s why it was self-serve.  All the time I was there, there was only one time that someone came by with a drink cart, but they never came close to my table  And I think they just had water.  Oh well, hopefully next time things will be closer to normal.

And with that I’ll stop and tell you more about the game and the poker next, probably at the end of this weekend.  Hint: The table was a lot of fun and I encountered an extremely colorful character! Stay tuned.

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